Now, virologists at Jefferson Medical College, led by Roger J. Pomerantz, M.D., professor of medicine, biochemistry and molecular pharmacology and director of the Division of Infectious Diseases and Environmental Medicine at Jefferson Medical College of Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, may have found a way to bring HIV out of hiding. They have shown that an immune cell protein called interleukin-7 (IL-7) can rouse the virus better than previously tried agents, making it vulnerable to drugs and the body's immune system. If the new technique proves its mettle, the work could lead to improved treatments for HIV infection, and might be a step toward complete viral eradication.
The Jefferson team reports its findings January 4, 2005 in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.
Dr. Pomerantz, who is director of Jefferson's Center for Human Virology and Biodefense, and his co-workers took blood cells from HIV-infected patients who had been taking HAART and who had undetectable levels of virus. Using a special technique, they screened the cells with several different drugs to determine what stimulated the latent virus the best.
"To our surprise, it was IL-7," he says. "We don't know why, but it is the best agent in terms of its ability to stimulate HIV out of latency that we've seen in the last 15 years." They found that the virus was stimulated to higher levels and was activated in more patients than with other compounds.